FISHING

Trophy Catch bass program has big rewards for anglers

BY SUSAN COCKING

[email protected]

Beginning Oct. 1, anglers in Florida will have some major incentives to catch and release lunker largemouth bass: up to $1 million in cash and lots of prizes.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, along with federal government and fishing industry partners, will launch “Trophy Catch” — a program to reward freshwater anglers for conserving the state’s most sought-after species.

Anglers who catch, document and release Florida largemouth bass weighing 8 pounds or more will be recognized on a state registry and awarded prizes ranging from fishing tackle to a cool million — that big payout going to whoever manages to catch a state record. The official Florida record largemouth bass weighed 17.27 pounds and was caught by Billy O’Berry in an unnamed Polk County lake in 1986.

Bass weighing 13 pounds or more will be eligible for induction into a new Florida Bass Fishing Hall of Fame.

Tom Champeau, FWC director of freshwater fisheries, said the Florida subspecies of largemouth bass has been stocked worldwide for its size and hardiness but, ironically, no one knows how many big ones are swimming around in Florida bodies of water.

“People ask how many trophy bass are caught in Florida. As director of fisheries, I don’t know,” Champeau told reporters at a recent news conference in Orlando. “It’s critical that we learn this to conserve this species. We are trying to recycle our big fish. We are working on alternatives to discourage killing fish to mount them.”

Bass fishing in Florida is a big-time recreational industry that generates $1.25 billion for the state’s economy and supports thousands of jobs, according to statistics from the FWC.

Trophy Catch is modeled on a similar program established 20 years ago in Texas called Share Lunker, aimed at providing brood stock for the Lone Star state’s bass fishery. Champeau said Florida doesn’t need brood stock because it already has bass that are 100 percent Florida strain.

Anglers can register for Trophy Catch now by going to http://www.myfwc.com/TrophyCatch.